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Reviewed by:
  • Performing Early Modern Drama Today ed. by Pascale Aebischer and Kathryn Prince
  • Lois Potter
Performing Early Modern Drama Today. Edited by Pascale Aebischer and Kathryn Prince. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xiv + 247. $99 (cloth), $61.22 (Kindle).

While this book in itself is a cause for congratulation, what is even more to be congratulated is the situation that makes it possible. Until recently, it would have been almost impossible to find enough examples of performance of non-Shakespearean Elizabethan and Jacobean plays (this is what “early modern” really means these days) to justify an entire book. But the internet now allows one to track down what used to be invisible events at schools, colleges, and fringe theatre companies, while long-lost television and film productions, rediscovered in dusty basement archives, have been reappearing on DVDs.

What this means is that the collection does not need to spend much time trying to evoke the effect of plays in performance, since it’s actually possible for readers to discover this for themselves. The editors offer these essays as a contribution to a “second wave” of performance scholarship, one concerned less with the recovery of early modern drama in the light of its theatrical conditions than with finding contemporary contexts for that drama. The essays by Lucy Munro—“The early modern repertory and the performance of Shakespeare’s contemporaries today”—and Jeremy Lopez—“The seeds of time: student theatre and the drama of Shakespeare’s contemporaries”—consolidate the information already available, surveying which plays have most frequently been revived in professional and student theatre respectively (I was particularly glad to see Munro’s mention of The White Bear Theatre in Kennington), and speculating as to the chances of any further additions to this fragile canon. Both writers make the point that revivals generally depend on the availability of editions: anthologies of Renaissance drama not only have enormous power in canon formation, but also influence what is likely to be performed. This is probably even truer in the US, since in the UK the most important factor is likely to be whether a play is set for A-level exams; there are of course no set texts on the American college boards. It’s perhaps too early to know the effect of the new internet editions (for instance, of Brome) which make texts not only available but cheap and easy to print out. One would like to think that there might be a modest increase in the range of plays chosen for study and revival. [End Page 321]

The production styles and repertories of the Globe, the RSC, and the Black-friars Playhouse in Staunton, VA, each receive a chapter. As is made clear by both Farah Karim-Cooper, in “The performance of early modern drama at Shakespeare’s Globe,” and Coen Heijes, in “Shakespeare’s contemporaries at the Royal Shakespeare Company,” the Globe and the RSC backed off from their original intention of performing a wide range of early modern drama, but are now about to revert to the original plan, mainly because they have found that such plays fit well into a small performance space. Jacqueline Bessell’s account, “The Actor’s Renaissance Season at the Blackfriars Playhouse,” is particularly welcome, since I’ve attended nearly every one of these seasons and, like many US-based academics, see them as one of the highlights of my theatre-going year. The role of Mary Baldwin College students is clearly important, both literally—they take small parts in the Renaissance season—and in their academic projects of recording the experience of rehearsing and performing the plays.

The remaining four essays are more specialized. Rebecca McCutcheon, who directed Marlowe’s Dido Queen of Carthage, and Sarah Thom, who played Dido in three different locales between 2001 and 2008, discuss their production in “Dido Queen of Carthage: site-specific theatre”; it incorporated music from Purcell’s opera and evidently had a powerful atmospheric effect (they seem to suggest that the play needs to be adapted). Roberta Barker, in “‘A freshly creepy reality’: Jacobean tragedy and realist acting on the contemporary stage,” questions the extent to which realist acting can work for these...


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pp. 321-324
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